Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

At 11:38 a.m. EST, on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Christa McAuliffe is on her way to becoming the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire, won a competition that earned her a place among the seven-member crew of the Challenger. She underwent months of shuttle training but then, beginning January 23, was forced to wait six long days as the Challenger‘s launch countdown was repeatedly delayed because of weather and technical problems. Finally, on January 28, the shuttle lifted off.

Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including Christa’s family, stared in disbelief as the shuttle broke up in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors.

READ MORE: 5 Things You May Not Know About the Challenger Shuttle

In 1976, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) unveiled the world’s first reusable manned spacecraft, the Enterprise. Five years later, space flights of the shuttle began when Columbia traveled into space on a 54-hour mission. Launched by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank, only the aircraft-like shuttle entered into orbit around Earth. When the mission was completed, the shuttle fired engines to reduce speed and, after descending through the atmosphere, landed like a glider. Early shuttles took satellite equipment into space and carried out various scientific experiments. The Challenger disaster was the first major shuttle accident.

In the aftermath of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan appointed a special commission to determine what went wrong with Challenger and to develop future corrective measures. The presidential commission was headed by former secretary of state William Rogers, and included former astronaut Neil Armstrong and former test pilot Chuck Yeager. The investigation determined that the disaster was caused by the failure of an “O-ring” seal in one of the two solid-fuel rockets. The elastic O-ring did not respond as expected because of the cold temperature at launch time, which began a chain of events that resulted in the massive loss. As a result, NASA did not send astronauts into space for more than two years as it redesigned a number of features of the space shuttle.

READ MORE: Reagan Delayed the 1986 State of the Union to Mourn the Challenger Disaster

In September 1988, space shuttle flights resumed with the successful launching of the Discovery. Since then, the space shuttle has carried out numerous important missions, such as the repair and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope and the construction of the International Space Station.

On February 1, 2003, a second space-shuttle disaster rocked the United States when Columbia disintegrated upon reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere. All aboard were killed. Despite fears that the problems that downed Columbia had not been satisfactorily addressed, space-shuttle flights resumed on July 26, 2005, when Discovery was again put into orbit.

The Space Shuttle program formally ended on August 31, 2011 after its final mission, STS-135 flown by Atlantis, in July 2011.


Space Shuttle Challenger

Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) was a Space Shuttle orbiter manufactured by Rockwell International and operated by NASA. Named after the commanding ship of a nineteenth-century scientific expedition that traveled the world, Challenger was the second Space Shuttle orbiter to fly into space after Columbia, and launched on its maiden flight in April 1983. It was destroyed in January 1986 soon after launch in an accident that killed all seven crewmembers aboard. Initially manufactured as a test article not intended for spaceflight, it was utilized for ground testing of the Space Shuttle orbiter's structural design. However, after NASA found that their original plan to upgrade Enterprise for spaceflight would be more expensive than upgrading Challenger, the orbiter was pressed into operational service in the Space Shuttle program. Lessons learned from the first orbital flights of Columbia led to Challenger ' s design possessing fewer thermal protection system tiles and a lighter fuselage and wings. This led to it being 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) lighter than Columbia, though still 2,600 kilograms (5,700 pounds) heavier than Discovery.

During its three years of operation, Challenger was flown on ten missions in the Space Shuttle program, spending over 62 days in space and completing almost 1,000 orbits around Earth. Following its maiden flight, Challenger supplanted Columbia as the leader of the Space Shuttle fleet, being the most-flown orbiter during all three years of its operation while Columbia itself was seldom used during the same time frame. Challenger was used for numerous civilian satellite launches, such as the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, the Palpa B communications satellites, the Long Duration Exposure Facility, and the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite. It was also used as a test bed for the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) and served as the platform to repair the malfunctioning SolarMax telescope. In addition, three consecutive Spacelab missions were conducted with the orbiter in 1985, one of which being the first German crewed spaceflight mission. Passengers carried into orbit by Challenger include the first American female astronaut, the first American female spacewalker, the first African-American astronaut, and the first Canadian astronaut.

On its tenth flight in January 1986, Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after liftoff, killing the seven-member crew of STS-51-L that included Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space. The Rogers Commission convened shortly afterwards concluded that an O-ring seal in one of Challenger ' s solid rocket boosters failed to contain pressurized burning gas that leaked out of the booster, causing a structural failure of Challenger ' s external tank and the orbiter's subsequent disintegration due to aerodynamic forces. NASA's organizational culture was also scrutinized by the Rogers Commission, and the Space Shuttle program's goal of replacing the United States' expendable launch systems was cast into doubt. The loss of Challenger and its crew led to a broad rescope of the program, and numerous aspects of it – such as launches from Vandenberg, the MMU, and Shuttle-Centaur – were scrapped to improve crew safety Challenger and Atlantis were the only orbiters modified to conduct Shuttle-Centaur launches. The recovered remains of the orbiter are mostly buried in a missile silo located at Cape Canaveral LC-31, though some pieces are on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.


Challenger disaster

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Challenger disaster, explosion of the U.S. space shuttle orbiter Challenger, shortly after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 28, 1986, which claimed the lives of seven astronauts.

The primary goal of shuttle mission 51-L was to launch the second Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-B). It also carried the Spartan Halley spacecraft, a small satellite that was to be released by Challenger and picked up two days later after observing Halley’s Comet during its closest approach to the Sun.

Greatest visibility among the crew went to teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe of Concord, New Hampshire, the winner of a national screening begun in 1984. McAuliffe was to conduct at least two lessons from orbit and then spend the following nine months lecturing students across the United States. The goal was to highlight the importance of teachers and to interest students in high-tech careers. Other members of the crew were commander Francis (Dick) Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, and Ronald McNair, and Hughes Aircraft engineer Gregory Jarvis.

The mission experienced trouble at the outset, as the launch was postponed for several days, partly because of delays in getting the previous shuttle mission, 61-C (Columbia), back on the ground. On the night before the launch, central Florida was swept by a severe cold wave that deposited thick ice on the launch pad. On launch day, January 28, liftoff was delayed until 11:38 am . All appeared to be normal until after the vehicle emerged from “Max-Q,” the period of greatest aerodynamic pressure. Mission Control told Scobee, “Challenger, go with throttle up,” and seconds later the vehicle disappeared in an explosion just 73 seconds after liftoff, at an altitude of 14,000 metres (46,000 feet). Tapes salvaged from the wreckage showed that the instant before breakup Smith said “Uh-oh,” but nothing else was heard. Debris rained into the Atlantic Ocean for more than an hour after the explosion searches revealed no sign of the crew.

The incident immediately grounded the shuttle program. An intensive investigation by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and a commission appointed by U.S. Pres. Ronald Reagan and chaired by former secretary of state William Rogers followed. Other members of the commission included astronauts Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, test pilot Chuck Yeager, and physicist Richard Feynman. What emerged was an appalling pattern of assumptions that the vehicle could survive minor mishaps and be pushed even further. The ill-fated launch brought to the fore the difficulties that NASA had been experiencing for many years in trying to accomplish too much with too little money.

The immediate cause of the accident was suspected within days and was fully established within a few weeks. The severe cold reduced the resiliency of two rubber O-rings that sealed the joint between the two lower segments of the right-hand solid rocket booster. (At a commission hearing, Feynman convincingly demonstrated the loss of O-ring resiliency by submerging an O-ring in a glass of ice water.) Under normal circumstances, when the shuttle’s three main engines ignited, they pressed the whole vehicle forward, and the boosters were ignited when the vehicle swung back to centre. On the morning of the accident, an effect called “joint rotation” occurred, which prevented the rings from resealing and opened a path for hot exhaust gas to escape from inside the booster. Puffs of black smoke appeared on the far side of the booster in a spot not visible to most cameras.

As the vehicle ascended, the leak expanded, and after 59 seconds a 2.4-metre (8-foot) stream of flame emerged from the hole. This grew to 12 metres (40 feet) and gradually eroded one of three struts that secured the booster’s base to the large external tank carrying liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the orbiter engines. At the same time, thrust in the booster lagged slightly, although within limits, and the nozzle steering systems tried to compensate. When the strut broke, the booster’s base swiveled outward, forcing its nose through the top of the external fuel tank and causing the whole tank to collapse and explode. Through ground tracking cameras this was seen as a brief flame licking from a concealed spot on the right side of the vehicle a few seconds before everything disappeared in the fireball. Even if the plume had been seen at liftoff, there would have been no hope for crew escape, because the shuttle orbiter could not survive high-speed separation from the tank until the last seconds of the boosters’ two-minute burn.

Challenger broke up in the explosion, but the forward section with the crew cabin was severed in one piece it continued to coast upward with other debris, including wings and still-flaming engines, and then plummeted to the ocean. It was believed that the crew survived the initial breakup but that loss of cabin pressure rendered them unconscious within seconds, since they did not wear pressure suits. Death probably resulted from oxygen deficiency minutes before impact.

The boosters also survived the fireball and righted themselves to continue flying, something totally unexpected. Range safety officers finally detonated their charges 30 seconds later to prevent them from overflying land. After the accident, NASA immediately began work on a redesigned solid booster for future launches.

An intensive salvage operation was organized to retrieve as much of the wreckage as possible and the bodies of the crew. The task was complicated by the force of the explosion and the altitude at which it occurred, as well as the separate paths taken by the boosters.

The Rogers Commission report, delivered on June 6 to the president, faulted NASA as a whole, and its Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and contractor Morton Thiokol, Inc., in Ogden, Utah, in particular, for poor engineering and management. Marshall was responsible for the shuttle boosters, engines, and tank, while Morton Thiokol manufactured the booster motors and assembled them at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The Rogers Commission heard disturbing testimony from a number of engineers who had been expressing concern about the reliability of the seals for at least two years and who had warned superiors about a possible failure the night before 51-L was launched. One of the Rogers Commission’s strongest recommendations was to tighten the communication gap between shuttle managers and working engineers. In response to this implied criticism that its quality-control measures had become slack, NASA added several more checkpoints in the shuttle bureaucracy, including a new NASA safety office and a shuttle safety advisory panel, in order to prevent such a “flawed” decision to launch from being made again.

Aside from these internal fixes at NASA, however, the Rogers Commission addressed a more fundamental problem. In NASA’s efforts to streamline shuttle operations in pursuit of its declared goal of flying 24 missions a year, the commission said, the agency had simply been pushing too hard. The shuttle program had neither the personnel nor the spare parts to maintain such an ambitious flight rate without straining its physical resources or overworking its technicians.

This judgment cut to the core of the way in which the national space program had been conducted in the shuttle era. Indeed, the Challenger accident merely focused attention on more deeply seated problems that had existed for as long as 15 years. From the time it was approved by Pres. Richard Nixon in 1972, the shuttle had been conceived as a “do-everything” vehicle for carrying every kind of space payload, from commercial and scientific satellites to military spacecraft to probes bound for the outer planets. NASA’s fleet of conventional “expendable” rockets such as the Delta and Atlas had been phased out in the shuttle era as a result and were being used primarily to reach polar orbits that the shuttle could not reach from Cape Canaveral.

Although this reliance on the shuttle was the officially stated national space policy, the Department of Defense had begun to retreat from relying exclusively on the shuttle even before the Challenger accident. Concerned that shuttle launch delays would jeopardize the assured access to space of high-priority national security satellites, the Air Force in 1985 began a program of buying advanced Titan rockets as “complementary expendable launch vehicles” for its own use.

Other, less powerful groups came forward after the Challenger accident to express their long-standing unhappiness with exclusive reliance on the shuttle for their access to space. Among those calling for a “mixed fleet” of shuttles and expendable launchers were scientists whose missions now faced long delays because the shuttle had become the only existing means of carrying their spacecraft.

By July, when NASA announced that the shuttle would not be ready to fly again until 1988, there was still no decision from Congress or the White House as to whether another orbiter would be built to replace Challenger. Proponents argued that another vehicle—perhaps two more—would be needed to meet the launch needs of the 1990s, which would include construction of NASA’s international space station, a permanent facility in Earth orbit.

In mid-August Pres. Ronald Reagan announced that construction of a replacement shuttle orbiter (later named Endeavour) would begin immediately. When the shuttle resumed service, however, it would no longer be in the business of launching satellites for paying customers but would be devoted almost exclusively to defense and scientific payloads. The Reagan administration had long had the goal of stimulating a private space launch industry, and now, with the removal of a heavily subsidized competitor from the market, three different companies stepped forward within a week’s time to announce plans for operating commercial versions of the Delta, Titan, and Atlas/Centaur launchers.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.


US History


Challenger
Source: NASA

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart during take-off. All of the seven crewmembers died in the accident including a schoolteacher from New Hampshire named Christa McAuliffe.

What is a Space Shuttle?

The Space Shuttle was the world's first reusable manned spacecraft. It was launched with the help of rocket boosters that would detach during flight. Once in orbit, astronauts and scientists aboard the Space Shuttle would perform experiments, launch satellites, and work on the International Space Station. When landing, the Space Shuttle would glide to a runway landing. The last Space Shuttle flight took place in 2011.

The Challenger Before the Disaster

Before the disaster, the Challenger had flown 9 successful missions starting in 1983. Most of the missions lasted around one week. The first American woman in space, Sally Ride, as well as the first African-American in space, Guion Bluford, both flew their historic flights aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.

After several delays, the Challenger was set to take off on the morning of January 28, 1986. It was a cold morning and much of the shuttle was covered with ice. By 11:00 a.m., NASA engineers had determined that the ice had melted and the Challenger could launch.

The countdown to lift off commenced and at 11:39 a.m., the Challenger took off. At first, everything seemed fine. The Challenger launched into the sky and was gaining speed. However, at 50,800 feet, something went wrong. The Challenger broke apart in flight taking with it the lives of the seven astronauts.

What Caused the Disaster

The disaster was investigated by a commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan. They discovered that a part called an "O-ring" seal on the rocket booster had failed largely due to the cold temperatures.


Space Shuttle Challenger Crew. Photo by NASA
  • Dick Scobee - The commander of the mission. He had piloted the Challenger on a previous mission.
  • Mike Smith - Mike was the shuttle pilot. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War and a father of three.
  • Judith Resnik - Judith was an engineer and a mission specialist. She was the second American woman in space.
  • Ellison Onizuka - Ellison was an engineer and a mission specialist. He had flown on the Space Shuttle Discovery and was the first Asian American into space.
  • Ronald McNair - Ronald was a physicist and a mission specialist on the flight. He became the second African American in space during an earlier Challenger flight.
  • Gregory Jarvis - Gregory was satellite design engineer and a payload specialist.
  • Christa McAuliffe - Christa was schoolteacher from New Hampshire. She was selected from thousands of teachers to join the Challenger flight and become the first schoolteacher in space.

For the next two years, NASA halted all space shuttle flights. Many of the parts were redesigned for added safety. Also, new procedures were put into place to insure this wouldn't happen again.


Cultural and technical firsts

In addition to milestones in space technology, Challenger was also host to several cultural firsts in the space shuttle program. The first American female astronaut, Sally Ride, rode up on Challenger on STS-7 in June 1983. The first black astronaut, Guion Bluford, reached space on STS-8.

On STS-41G in 1984, two women — Ride and Kathryn Sullivan — flew on one mission for the first time — as well as the first Canadian, Marc Garneau.

Challenger reached other milestones, too, including the first night launch and landing (STS-8) and the first operational Spacelab flight (STS-51B). Spacelab was a European space laboratory that fit into a shuttle's cargo bay and included several experiments designed for tests in microgravity. It flew on Columbia on STS-9 for the first time, but Challenger's mission is considered the first working one.


First of Christa McAuliffe’s lost lessons released from space

The Space Shuttle Challenger was hurtling through the air at twice the speed of sound when pilot Michael Smith noticed something alarming.

Sitting on the right side of the flight deck, Smith looked out his window and likely saw a flash of vapor or a fire.

Down on the ground at Mission Control, a computer screen indicated falling pressure in the right booster rocket. It was leaking fuel.

As was later learned, the cold of the Florida morning had stiffened the rubber O-rings that held the booster sections together, containing the explosive fuel inside. The rings failed to expand fully in the cold, leaving a gap of less than a millimeter between booster sections.

The breach allowed a few grams of superheated fuel to burn through.

At one minute and 12 seconds after liftoff, the small flame grew, taking only three seconds to penetrate the fuel tank’s aluminum skin.

The tank quickly ruptured, igniting the hydrogen fuel and causing a massive, Hindenburg-like explosion.

McAuliffe was selected out of 11,000 applicants partly because of her ease on camera. Bettmann Archive

The booster rockets separated, and kept blasting upward on diverging paths. A little-known Air Force official whose title was range safety officer quickly hit a self-destruct button, causing the boosters to explode and fall into the sea rather than on any populated areas.

Inside Houston’s Mission Control and Florida’s Launch Control centers, rows of S’s lined computer screens, indicating “static.” All audio and communication from the shuttle had been lost.

But the capsule the crew was sitting inside did not explode. It was ejected in the explosion, and remained intact. The brave crew members — Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe — survived the initial disaster and “were conscious, at least at first, and fully aware that something was wrong,” author Kevin Cook writes in the new book “The Burning Blue: The Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA’s Challenger” (Henry Holt and Co.), out now.

McAuliffe, 37, was a Concord, NH, social studies teacher who had won NASA’s Teacher in Space contest and earned a spot on the Jan. 28, 1986, mission as a payload specialist.

She was meant to be the first civilian in space, a fearless woman who set out to prove that “teachers have the right stuff, too,” as one of McAuliffe’s friends put it in the book. Instead, she ended up as arguably the most well-known name in America’s worst space-related tragedy.

Growing up in Framingham, Mass., young Christa Corrigan was always fascinated by space. She idolized John Kennedy for his push to the moon, and as a seventh-grader in 1961, she watched Alan Shepherd become the first American in space.

Challenger astronauts Ellison Onizuka (top row, from left), Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith (bottom row, from left), Francis R. (Dick) Scobee and Ronald E. McNair likely struggled in vain to prevent their doom after surviving the initial shuttle explosion. AP

“But she wouldn’t have made much of an astronaut anyway,” Cook writes, “a chubby Girl Scout with no knack for science or math who got sick to her stomach on carnival rides.”

She attended Framingham State College, and in 1970, she married her former high school boyfriend Steve McAuliffe.

In 1983, she landed her “dream job,” teaching social studies at Concord High School. She was an engaging and well-liked teacher. She would bring her guitar to class and strum ’60s protest songs. She occasionally had students dress in period costumes.

Then, in August 1984, McAuliffe saw a headline in the local paper reading, “Reagan Wants Teacher in Space.”

“Today,” President Ronald Reagan said, “I’m directing NASA to begin a search to choose as the first citizen passenger in the history of our space program one of America’s finest — a teacher.”

The announcement sounded pure, but the program was really a gambit to bolster the president’s reelection chances. The administration had previously cut funding to the National Education Association, leaving the group to denounce Reagan as “America’s Scrooge on education.”

After a few launch cancelations, the Challenger finally lifted off in January 1986. AP

“With the election three months away,” the author writes, “the president and his advisors saw a chance to promote the space program and win teachers’ votes in one stroke.”

That fall, while attending a Washington, DC, teachers conference, McAuliffe stumbled upon a booth promoting the Teacher in Space program. She picked up an application, thinking it might be “a great way to influence students — not because it would make her famous, but because it was something unusual, something fun,” a friend of McAuliffe’s says in the book.

A week later, McAuliffe received a follow-up application in the mail, requiring lengthy answers to essay questions.

“Why do you want to be the first US private citizen in space?” asked one

“As a woman,” McAuliffe wrote, “I have been envious of those men who could participate in the space program and who were encouraged to excel in the areas of math and science. I felt that women had indeed been left outside of one of the most exciting careers available.”

‘When do you want me to launch — next April?’

NASA manager when the maker of the O-rings used on the Space Shuttle Challenger warned of dangeriously low temperatures

Some 11,000 teachers applied, and the number was ultimately whittled to two from each state. A NASA blue-ribbon panel (containing, oddly, Pam Dawber from “Mork & Mindy”) spent weeks evaluating the candidates before ultimately choosing 10 finalists in July 1985.

McAuliffe made the cut, in part because of her ease on camera. “They wanted a teacher who’d be good on ‘The Johnny Carson show,’ ” another teacher finalist from Massachusetts, Bob Veilleux, says in the book. “Someone who could help make the public love space again.”

The 10 finalists were flown to Houston for a week of physical and mental tests. One teacher was nixed after he became panicked during an oxygen-deprivation trial, forcing NASA technicians to wrestle him to the ground and press an oxygen mask on his face.

McAuliffe handled everything NASA threw at her, and on July 19, 1985, Vice President George Bush announced she’d been chosen.

The Challenger was scheduled to launch in January 1986, leaving just a few months for McAuliffe to prepare. She had a foot-thick training manual to slog through, as well as vision, treadmill and other tests to complete.

Spectators at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., react to the shuttle’s explosion. AP

The launch seemed snakebitten from the start and was hit with multiple delays, including an attempt on Jan. 26, 1986, that was scrubbed due to rain. Another attempt the following day was scrapped after NASA techs struggled to fix a hatch malfunction with a cordless drill.

“All three network news programs featured NASA’s latest embarrassment,” the author writes. “CBS anchor Dan Rather called ‘today’s high-tech low comedy’ an embarrassment, ‘yet another costly, red-faces-all-around space shuttle delay.’ ”

It was the sixth postponement for the high-profile mission, and the powers that be were determined it would be the last.

On the eve of January 28, temperatures at the Florida launch pad fell to 22 degrees. The launch tower’s railings and cameras were covered with ice. During a teleconference a few hours before the launch, the makers of the O-rings expressed concern that cold might compromise the shuttle, but one NASA manager infamously fired back, “When do you want me to launch — next April?”

The Challenger went ahead with its blastoff, despite temperatures much colder than any previous launch. Disaster followed 72 seconds later.

As they streaked through the air, the seven crew members were jammed into the crew cabin, with Scobee, Smith, Onizuka and Resnick on the flight deck above and McAuliffe, Jarvis and McNair on the windowless middeck below. After the booster explosion, the interior of the crew cabin, which was protected by heat-resistant silicon tiles made to withstand reentry, was not burned up.

McAuliffe was buried in Concord, NH, in an unmarked grave, because her husband feared tourists would flock to the site. AP

The unexpected ignition of the rocket fuel instead gave it 2 million pounds of sudden thrust, sending it blasting into the sky and crushing the passengers inside with twenty G’s of force — multiple times the three G’s their training had accustomed the astronauts to.

An investigation later concluded the jump in G-force was “survivable, and the probability of injury is low.”

The cabin likely remained pressurized, as the later investigation showed no signs of a sudden depressurization that could have rendered the occupants unconscious. The astronauts were equipped with emergency air packs, but due to design considerations, the tanks were located behind their seats and had to be switched on by the crew members sitting behind them.

Examination of the wreckage later showed that three of the astronauts’ emergency air supplies had been switched on, indicating the crew had survived the initial seconds of the disaster.

It’s likely that the ship’s pilots tried to take control of the ship.

“What would they do then? Scobee and Smith would try to fly home,” former NASA scientist Kerry Joels says in the book.

Smith apparently tried to restore power to the shuttle, toggling switches on his control panel.

The cause, however, was hopeless.

The crew cabin continued to rise for 20 seconds before slowing, then finally dropping again some 12 miles above the Atlantic Ocean. The object ultimately reached a terminal velocity of more than 200 miles per hour before crashing into the sea. The final descent took more than two minutes.

McAuliffe was buried in Concord in an unmarked grave, because her husband feared tourists would flock to the site.

After a presidential commission to examine the disaster finished in June 1986, the pieces of the Challenger were subsequently entombed in an unused missile silo at Cape Canaveral.

As Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana said later, “It was like they were saying, ‘We want to forget about this.’ ”


Investigating Committee

President Ronald Reagan commissioned a committee to find the real cause of the disaster. This committee included renowned physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman and astronaut Sally Ride . They uncovered a great deal of miscommunication between NASA and its subcontractors, inexcusable decisions on NASA’s part, and other failures within NASA’s own policies. They also tracked down the physical cause of the failure.


Contents

The U.S. Space Shuttle program was officially referred to as the Space Transportation System (STS). Specific shuttle missions were therefore designated with the prefix "STS". [2] Initially, the launches were given sequential numbers indicating order of launch, such as STS-7. Subsequent to the Apollo 13 mishap, due to NASA Administrator James M. Beggs's triskaidekaphobia and consequent unwillingness to number a forthcoming flight as STS-13, [7] [8] [9] [10] beginning in 1984, each mission was assigned a code, such as STS-41-B, with the first digit (or pair of digits for years 1990 and beyond) indicating the federal fiscal year offset into the program (so 41-B was scheduled for FY 1984, 51-A thru 51-L originally for FY 1985, and the third flight in FY 1995 would have been named 151-C), the second digit indicating the launch site (1 was Kennedy Space Center and 2 was Space Launch Complex (SLC) 6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, although Vandenberg was never used), and the letter indicating scheduling sequence. [11] These codes were assigned when the launches were initially scheduled and were not changed as missions were delayed or rescheduled. [6] The codes were adopted from STS-41-B through STS-51-L (although the highest code used was actually STS-61-C), and the sequential numbers were used internally at NASA on all processing paperwork.

After the Challenger disaster, NASA returned to using a sequential numbering system, with the number counting from the beginning of the STS program. Unlike the initial system, however, the numbers were assigned based on the initial mission schedule, and did not always reflect actual launch order. This numbering scheme started at 26, with the first flight as STS-26R—the R suffix stood for "reflight" to disambiguate from prior missions. The suffix was used for two years through STS-33R, then the R was dropped. [6] As a result of the changes in systems, flights under different numbering systems could have the same number with one having a letter appended, e.g. flight STS-51 (a mission carried out by Discovery in 1993) was many years after STS-51-A (Discovery's second flight in 1984). [6] It wasn't until STS-127 in 2009 where the flight numbering system returned to a standard and consistent order.

Test flights Edit

The Approach and Landing Test program encompassed 16 separate tests of Enterprise, covering taxi tests, unmanned and manned flights on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, and finally the free flight tests. The following list includes the free-flight tests, durations listed count only the orbiter free-flight time. The list does not include total time aloft along with airborne time atop of the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA).

Launches and orbital flights Edit

  • First reuse of a manned orbital space vehicle
  • First test of Canadarm robot arm
  • Truncated due to fuel cell problem
  • Tracking and data relay satellite (TDRS-A) deployment
  • Maiden flight of Challenger
  • First Space Shuttle Extravehicular activity
  • First American woman in space, Sally Ride
  • Multiple comsat deployments
  • First deployment and retrieval of a Shuttle Pallet Satellite
    deployment
  • First flight of an African American in space, Guion Bluford
  • Test of robot arm on heavy payloads with Payload Flight Test Article
  • First night landing
  • Deployed two Comsats
  • First untethered spacewalk by Bruce McCandless II with Manned Maneuvering Unit
  • First landing at Kennedy Space Center
  • Dry run of equipment for Solar Maximum Mission rescue
    deployment
  • First flight of two women in space, Sally Ride and Kathryn Sullivan
  • First spacewalk by American woman, Sullivan
  • First Canadian in space, Marc Garneau
  • Multiple comsat deployments
  • Retrieval of two other comsats (Palapa B2 and Westar VI), which were subsequently refurbished on Earth and reflown
  • Multiple comsat deployments
  • First flight of a sitting politician in space, Jake Garn
  • First impromptu Extravehicular activity of program to fix Syncom F3 (Leasat 3)
  • First mission with Spacelab module in a fully operational configuration
  • Conducted experiments in microgravity
    mission . Faulty temperature sensor incorrectly indicated that fuel turbine discharge temperature exceeded the limit. Therefore, one main engine was shut down at T+345 s, resulting in a much lower orbit than planned.
  • All mission objectives achieved
  • Largest crew on a spaceflight
  • Third flight of Spacelab
  • Spacelab-D1 microgravity experiments
  • Mission funded by West Germany
  • Last successful mission of Challenger
  • First Dutchman in space, Wubbo Ockels
  • Third classified DoD mission deployment
  • Heavy damage to the thermal protection system resulted in extreme heat damage to the right wing
  • Tracking and data relay satellite (TDRS-D) deployment camera
  • Space Station Heat Pipe Advanced Radiator Element I space station radiator experiment
    hand-retrieval and repair
  • First flight of Endeavour
  • First three-person Extravehicular activity
  • Assembly of Station by EVA Methods (ASEM) space station truss experiment EVA
  • Record four EVAs total for mission
  • First landing with a drag chute
    satellite deployed
  • Orbiting Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer with IMAX camera deployed
  • Second Shuttle-Mir docking
  • Delivered docking module
  • Delivered IMAX cargo bay camera
  • Deployed and retrieved Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the Atmosphere-Shuttle Pallet Satellite-2 (CRISTA-SPAS)
  • Microgravity experiments
  • 2 Extravehicular activities
  • SPARTAN
  • First spaceflight by a woman of Indian origin Kalpana Chawla
    flight 19A: Utility and Logistics Flight 4: Multi-Purpose Logistics ModuleLeonardo
  • Last night launch of the Shuttle Program
  • Payload Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Raffaello
  • Final flight of Atlantis
  • Final flight of the Space Shuttle program

Canceled missions Edit

One initial emergency flight abort (RTLS) sub-orbital test mission was canceled due to high risk. Many other planned missions were canceled due to the late development of the shuttle, and the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

Four missions were cut short by a day or more while in orbit: STS-2 (equipment failure), [22] STS-35 (weather), [101] STS-44 (equipment failure), [192] and STS-83 (equipment failure, relaunched as STS-94). [192]

Contingency missions Edit

STS-300 was the designation for the Space Shuttle Launch on Need (LON) missions to be launched on short notice for STS-114 and STS-121, in the event that the shuttle became disabled or damaged and could not safely return to Earth. [299] [300] [301] The rescue flight for STS-115, if needed, would have been STS-301. After STS-115, the rescue mission designations were based on the corresponding regular mission that would be replaced should the rescue mission be needed. For example, the STS-116 rescue mission was branded STS-317, because the normal mission scheduled after STS-116 was STS-117. Should the rescue mission have been needed, the crew and vehicle for STS-117 would assume the rescue mission profile and become STS-317. All potential rescue missions were to be launched with a crew of four, and would return with ten or eleven crew members, depending on the number of crew launched on the rescued shuttle. Missions were expected to last approximately eleven days. None of the planned contingency missions were ever flown. [302]

No contingency mission was planned for STS-135, the final shuttle mission. Instead, NASA planned to effect any required rescues one-by-one, using Russian Soyuz spacecraft. [303]

Flight Rescue Flight
STS-114 (Discovery) STS-300 (Atlantis)
STS-121 (Discovery) STS-300 (Atlantis)
STS-115 (Atlantis) STS-301 (Discovery)
STS-116 (Discovery) STS-317 (Atlantis)
STS-117 (Atlantis) STS-318 (Endeavour)
STS-118 (Endeavour) STS-322 (Discovery)
STS-120 (Discovery) STS-320 (Atlantis) [d]
STS-122 (Atlantis) STS-323 (Discovery) [e]
STS-123 (Endeavour) STS-324 (Discovery)
STS-124 (Discovery) STS-326 (Endeavour)
STS-125 (Atlantis) STS-400 (Endeavour)
STS-134 (Endeavour) STS-335 (Atlantis)

Orbiters Edit

Key
Test vehicle
Lost
Shuttle Designation Flights Flight time Orbits Longest flight First flight Last flight Mir
dockings
ISS dockings Sources
Flight Date Flight Date
Enterprise OV-101 5 00d 00h 19m 0 00d 00h 05m ALT-12 12 August 1977 ALT-16 26 October 1977 [305] [306] [307] [308]
Columbia OV-102 28 300d 17h 47m 15s 4,808 17d 15h 53m 18s STS-1 12 April 1981 STS-107 16 January 2003 0 0 [305] [306] [309] [310] [311]
Challenger OV-099 10 62d 07h 56m 15s 995 08d 05h 23m 33s STS-6 4 April 1983 STS-51-L 28 January 1986 0 0 [305] [306] [312] [313]
Discovery OV-103 39 364d 22h 39m 29s 5,830 15d 02h 48m 08s STS-41-D 30 August 1984 STS-133 24 February 2011 1 13 [305] [306] [314] [315]
Atlantis OV-104 33 306d 14h 12m 43s 4,848 13d 20h 12m 44s STS-51-J 3 October 1985 STS-135 8 July 2011 7 12 [305] [306] [316] [317]
Endeavour OV-105 25 296d 03h 34m 02s 4,677 16d 15h 08m 48s STS-49 7 May 1992 STS-134 16 May 2011 1 12 [305] [306] [318] [319]
Total N/A 135 1330d 18h 9m 44s 21,158 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 9 37 N/A

Flights Edit

  • Enterprise
  • Columbia
  • Challenger
  • Discovery
  • Atlantis
  • Endeavour

Timeline of missions Edit

  1. ^ If there are two numbers in this column, it signifies the number of astronauts launched and landed with, respectively. If the two numbers are the same, this indicates a crew swap took place during the mission.
  2. ^ ab This shuttle was intended to land at Kennedy.
  3. ^ abcde The listed UTC time occurs the next day.
  4. ^ NASA called this mission STS-320 instead of STS-321. [301]
  5. ^ Originally scheduled to be Endeavour, changed to Discovery due to contamination issues. [304]
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The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster: The History and Legacy of NASA’s Most Notorious Tragedy

In the decades after the Apollo program, American space shuttles flew over 130 missions and successfully completed over 98% of them, but unfortunately, the two most famous missions were the ones that ended t *Includes pictures
*Profiles the origins of the mission and what went wrong
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

In the decades after the Apollo program, American space shuttles flew over 130 missions and successfully completed over 98% of them, but unfortunately, the two most famous missions were the ones that ended tragically aboard the Challenger and Columbia.

The Space Shuttle Challenger was the most heavily used space shuttle in the three years it was operational, carrying the first minority astronaut and woman astronaut into space. Challenger was also the first space shuttle to complete a landing at night.

On the morning of January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger launched for the 10th time, beginning mission STS-51-L. Space shuttles had already successfully completed 24 missions, and no American spacecraft had ever failed to reach orbit during an official mission. On this mission, the Challenger was carrying a satellite for the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites system, which was to be deployed in orbit. The crew included Ronald McNair, who had already been the second African-American in space, and Ellison Onizuka, who had already been the first Asian-American astronaut in space. But the highlight of the mission was to be the “NASA Teacher in Space Project,” in which a civilian teacher would give teaching lessons to his or her class while onboard the space shuttle. The winner of the competition was Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher in Concord, New Hampshire, who wrote a winning essay and had to undergo a year of astronaut training before that fateful day.

It was a beautiful morning, and many spectators came to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch, including McAuliffe’s parents and her students. Several news networks were carrying live broadcasts of the launch, including live shots of McAuliffe’s parents as they watched the Challenger liftoff. Mission Control’s transmissions to the Challenger were being blared over loudspeakers to give spectators a play-by-play of the shuttle’s ascent.

Ascent seemed to be going normally during the first minute, but about 75 seconds into the ascent, a plastic O-ring used to seal a joint in one of the solid rocket boosters failed, causing a breach of hot gas. That gas spread to the other rocket booster and the external fuel tank, causing an explosion. When the spectators saw the explosion, many of them started cheering, unaware of what was really happening. But Mission Control quickly announced that there had been some sort of problem, and the crowd became confused and then panicky as the space shuttle, fuel tank and rocket boosters all broke apart and flew in opposite directions. Some cameras fixed on the falling debris as it fell to the ocean, while others stayed focused on McAuliffe’s parents.

The entire crew was killed in the explosion, and investigations concluded that they may have survived until crashing into the ocean. After the Challenger disaster, the space shuttles were grounded for about two years, and a commission issued findings that would be used in an effort to prevent similar tragedies.

The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster: The History and Legacy of NASA’s Most Notorious Tragedy chronicles the disaster from the origins of its mission to what went so terribly wrong. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about the Challenger like never before. . more


Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster - HISTORY

Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger
Address to the Nation, January 28, 1986

by President Ronald W. Reagan

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering.

Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we've never lost an astronaut in flight we've never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we're thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, "Give me a challenge and I'll meet it with joy." They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute.

We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here our hopes and our journeys continue.

I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: "Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it."

There's a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, "He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it." Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake's, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."


PSYCH 424 blog

Have you ever felt pressured to do something while you were part of a team or group that led to a flawed decision? In January of 1986, the orbiter Challenger exploded 73 seconds after the launch due to that exact reason. Decision Makers and top echelons at NASA and Morton Thiokol cared more about satisfying and entertaining its major customer, the American people rather than the safety of the launch and its crew members. America was becoming disinterested in spaceflight and NASA saw the dwindling popularity and excitement in their space shuttle program. Groupthink theory could help explain how leaders and decision makers played a major part in the disaster that occured in 1986.

Groupthink is defined as “a process of flawed decision making that occurs as a result of strong pressures among group members to reach an agreement”. (Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M., 2017). After the explosion, the Rogers Commission examined the causes of the explosion and one of the “potentially catastrophic” elements was a rubber part called an O-ring. In the article, Challenger Explosion: How Groupthink and Other Causes Led to the Tragedy it states, “The O-ring was known to be sensitive to the cold and could only work above 53 degrees. Temperature on the launch pad that morning was 36 degrees.”. With this knowledge that NASA and Morton Thiokol had, how did the launch get approved for launch? Was it a lack of communication amongst the groups, a way to chase publicity that the companies saw was dwindling, a result of major pressure the group had internally and externally, or all three?

There was national, group, and political pressure on NASA and Morton Thiokol, the company that built the solid rocket boosters to have the Challenger launch on time. NASA had averaged five missions a year after the projected frequency of the space shuttle program was 50 flights a year. How could they keep America’s interest if they weren’t having as many missions as originally promised? They diversified the astronaut crews with women, people of color, and scientists but that proved to not be enough to keep the country’s attention. President Ronald Reagan was also announcing the launch at his Union address that night. The only option that NASA and Morton Thiokol felt they had was to continue with the launch as scheduled. As we know, that faulty decision making led to seven people losing their lives.

The effects of groupthink could be small or big but regardless of the impact of the flawed decision, it is important for people to know about it while trying to prevent it. “Janis (1983) proposed a set of prescriptions for preventing groupthink. The prescriptions generally focus on helping a group carefully examine all relevant information and courses of action to ensure that it does not rush into making a poorly informed and reasoned decision”. Maybe if NASA and Morton Thiokol followed Janis’ set of prescriptions for preventing groupthink or examined all of the information before rushing into the launch due to pressure they felt, the outcome of that day could have been different. The Challenger tragedy led NASA to focus on a safer future in space by fixing communication and the management of safety at the organization. Next time that you are part of a group, consider ways to prevent groupthink to stop any flawed decisions from being made.

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W. , &. Coutts, L.M. (Eds.). (2016). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems 3rd edition. SAGE Publications.

Teitel, Amy Shira. “Challenger Explosion: How Groupthink and Other Causes Led to the Tragedy.” History.com , A&E Television Networks, 25 Jan. 2018, www.history.com/news/how-the-challenger-disaster-changed-nasa.

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